More than 1.5 million people in the US are waiting for their asylum claims to be heard, as the Supreme Court weighs the merits of the Trump-era Title 42 health policy — and could order it ended as soon as Tuesday.

The number of pending asylum applications has exploded in the past decade, according to an analysis of federal data by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, and fears have grown that lifting Title 42 could unleash a fresh surge of migration across the US-Mexico border

The number of asylum seekers — 1,565,966 — is split between the 767,882 waiting for hearings before judges in the Department of Justice’s Immigration Courts and the 778,084 waiting for hearings before US Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Homeland Security Department, the analysis says. 

The Syracuse clearinghouse says political instability in Mexico, Venezuela, Haiti, Central America and other regions is behind the escalating number of claims, which have outpaced the number of immigration judges and asylum officers put in place over recent presidential administrations. 

Long lines of migrants wait at the border near El Paso on Sunday to be transported to US Customs and Border Protection officers.
Long lines of migrants wait at the border near El Paso to be transported to US Customs and Border Protection sites.
James Keivom

Claims in the Immigration Courts have jumped seven-fold in the past 10 years, from 100,000 asylum applications in fiscal year 2012 to more than 750,000 cases as of Sept. 30 of this year.

Another 30,000 cases were filed in October and November, bringing the total to 787,882.

The clearinghouse, which crunches information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and has created a massive database that reaches back years, said comparable figures are not yet available from the USCIS. 

It warned — as have many border officials — that the end of Title 42 could “lead to an increase in the arrival of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border.”

The health policy was implemented in March 2020 by the Trump administration and allowed border officials to expel migrants without first hearing their asylum claims on the grounds they could spread the coronavirus.

In the 12 months ending Sept. 30, a record-shattering 2.4 million people crossed the southern border of the US illegally. About 40% of those were expelled into Mexico under Title 42.

But in anticipation of the policy ending, migrants have been massing at the southern border by the tens of thousands. 

The Border Patrol estimates that as many as 5,000 migrants will enter the processing center in El Paso every day, easily overburdening the facility. 

The Biden administration, which supports allowing Title 42 to expire, has erected a makeshift structure bigger than a football field near the city in preparation for the waves of migrants.

A man carrying a child surrenders to border officials on Saturday after crossing the border near El Paso.
A man carrying a child surrenders to border officials Saturday after crossing the border near El Paso.
James Keivom

The health policy worked its way through the nation’s court system until Chief Justice John Roberts last week heard an emergency appeal from 19 Republican-led states and kept Title 42 in place while the justices consider taking the case.

A federal court in DC ruled in November that the policy should end on Dec. 21.

The Biden administration, responding to Roberts, argued that Title 42 has outlived its usefulness but asked for the court to delay ending it to allow more time to prepare.  



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